Carving Nature at Its Joints

Carving Nature at Its Joints: Natural Kinds in Metaphysics and Science

Joseph Keim Campbell
Michael O’Rourke
Matthew H. Slater
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Carving Nature at Its Joints
    Book Description:

    Contemporary discussions of the success of science often invoke an ancient metaphor from Plato's Phaedrus: successful theories should "carve nature at its joints." But is nature really "jointed"? Are there natural kinds of things around which our theories cut? The essays in this volume offer reflections by a distinguished group of philosophers on a series of intertwined issues in the metaphysics and epistemology of classification.The contributors consider such topics as the relevance of natural kinds in inductive inference; the role of natural kinds in natural laws; the nature of fundamental properties; the naturalness of boundaries; the metaphysics and epistemology of biological kinds; and the relevance of biological kinds to certain questions in ethics. Carving Nature at Its Joints offers both breadth and thematic unity, providing a sampling of state-of-the-art work in contemporary analytic philosophy that will be of interest to a wide audience of scholars and students concerned with classification.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29878-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    John Dupré

    The contemporary problem of natural kinds is related to a long tradition of philosophical reflection, dating from at least as far back as Plato’s discussions of Forms. Natural kinds offer an answer to the question, what is it for an individual thing to belong to a certainkindof thing and thus to be of the same kind asotherparticular things? Enthusiasts for natural kinds say that the division of things into distinct kinds is a fact about nature and, as such, is a fact that is disclosed to us by science. Philosophical reflection, they argue, tells us what...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: Lessons from the Scientific Butchery
    (pp. 1-32)
    Matthew H. Slater and Andrea Borghini

    Good chefs know the importance of maintaining sharp knives in the kitchen. What’s their secret? A well-worn Taoist allegory offers some advice. The king asks about his butcher’s impressive knife-work. “Ordinary butchers,” he replies “hack their way through the animal. Thus their knife always needs sharpening. My father taught me the Taoist way. I merely lay the knife by the natural openings and let it find its own way through. Thus it never needs sharpening” (Kahn 1995, vii; see also Watson 2003, 46). Plato famously employed this “carving” metaphor as an analogy for the reality of Forms (Phaedrus265e): like...

  6. 2 Induction, Samples, and Kinds
    (pp. 33-52)
    Peter Godfrey-Smith

    This essay will criticize a familiar package of ideas about “inductive” inference, and use that criticism to motivate a different package.

    “Induction” is understood here as a pattern of argument or method used to answer questions of the form: “how manyFs areG?” This question is understood as one about a proportion or frequency. So it could also be expressed by asking “what is the rate of G in theFs?” The question “Are allFsG?” is a special case. Examples of such questions include:

    1. How many teenagers smoke?

    2. How many ravens are black?

    3. How...

  7. 3 It Takes More Than All Kinds to Make a World
    (pp. 53-84)
    Marc Lange

    Figure 3.1 shows one picture of what it takes to make a world: the kinds of particles, the kinds of forces, and a vast mixing bowl. I shall be arguing that although, as the saying goes, “it takes all kinds to make a world,” there is an important sense in which it takesmorethan all of theactualkinds. What the particle species would have been like, had the list of species been different in various ways, is crucial to making the actual classes the natural kinds they are.

    The various species of elementary particle (some of which are...

  8. 4 Lange and Laws, Kinds, and Counterfactuals
    (pp. 85-96)
    Alexander Bird

    In this essay I examine and question Marc Lange’s account of laws, and his claim in the preceding chapter that the law delineating the range of natural kinds of fundamental particle has a lesser grade of necessity than do laws connecting the fundamental properties of those kinds with their derived properties.

    Regularity theorists about laws face the following problem: many regularities are true, but only some of them correspond to laws. Consider:

    (S1) All bits of copper conduct electricity;

    (S2) All lumps of gold have a volume of less than a cubic mile.

    These two generalizations are both true. However,...

  9. 5 Are Fundamental Laws Necessary or Contingent?
    (pp. 97-112)
    Noa Latham

    A central issue in metaphysics is whether there are any necessary relations in nature. The Humean answer is that there are not, so that laws of nature are contingent. The opposing view, that laws of nature are such necessary relations, offers a very different metaphysical picture of the universe. In this essay I primarily address a dispute among non-Humeans as to whether laws of nature are metaphysically necessary, or metaphysically contingent with a weaker kind of necessity, commonly labeled natural, nomological, or nomic necessity. I call the parties to this dispute necessitarians¹ and contingentists.² Restricting the scope of the discussion...

  10. 6 Para-Natural Kinds
    (pp. 113-128)
    Roy Sorensen

    A para-natural kind is an absence defined by a natural kind. For instance, cold is defined as the absence of heat and shadow as an absence of light.

    There is a folk taxonomy for para-natural kinds. Scientists refine this taxonomy by improving the alignment of our commonsense categories with the corresponding para-natural kinds. After William Hershel discovered infrared light, physicists acquiesced to his talk of invisible shadows (despite the locution echoing the oxymoronic “invisible light”). When William Ritter went on to discover ultraviolet light, physicists continued the process of extending ‘shadow’ across the electromagnetic spectrum.

    Just as scientists discover new...

  11. 7 Boundaries, Conventions, and Realism
    (pp. 129-154)
    Achille C. Varzi

    If you have driven in Europe recently you may have had that strange feeling. You see a sign that says ‘Deutschland’ or ‘France’ or ‘España’—and just drive through. No customs barrier, no passport control—just a sign. You say “Ah!” and carry on; the sign could be a hundred yards further out and it would make no difference. Yet by crossing that line you enter a different world-district, magically separated from its surroundings—you enter a region where people suddenly speak another language, rely on their own authorities, share a different heritage, and struggle to solvetheirproblems and...

  12. 8 Natural Kinds and Biological Realisms
    (pp. 155-174)
    Michael Devitt

    There are a number of “realism” issues in biology, issues about what “exists,” what is “real,” what is “objective.”¹ In general, realism issues tend to be confused and the biological ones are no exception. We shall see that the interesting realism issues in biology are best seen as ones over which kinds “carve nature at its joints”—which kinds are “natural kinds”—and that seeing them as “realism” issues has caused unclarity and confusion.²

    I shall start with the issue that arises out of the debate between “species monists” who think that there is just one good “species concept”—one...

  13. 9 Three Ways of Resisting Essentialism about Natural Kinds
    (pp. 175-198)
    Bence Nanay

    Essentialism about natural kinds has three tenets. The first tenet is that all and only members of a natural kind have some essential properties. The second tenet is that these essential properties play a causal role. The third tenet is that they are explanatorily relevant. I examine the prospects of questioning these tenets and point out that arguing against the first and the second tenets of kind-essentialism would involve taking part in some of the grand debates of philosophy. But, at least if we restrict the scope of the discussion to the biological domain, the third tenet of kind-essentialism could...

  14. 10 Arthritis and Nature’s Joints
    (pp. 199-230)
    Neil E. Williams

    It should come as a surprise to almost no-one that the thought that diseases constitute natural kinds does not generally sit well with the essentialist picture of natural kinds as championed by Kripke and Putnam in the 1970s.¹ According to that essentialist picture, in order for a class of entities to be a natural kind it is required that all and only members of the class instantiate some very specific property or properties, and that these properties explain the presence of any other properties typically associated with being a member of the kind. These privileged properties constitute theessenceof...

  15. 11 Predicting Populations by Modeling Individuals
    (pp. 231-252)
    Bruce Glymour

    Despite their many differences, the so-calleddynamicandstatisticalinterpretations of evolutionary theory (ET) share a common understanding of that theory. ET is, among other things, a theory about how frequencies of types change in populations, and these changes are recorded as changes in the values of variables measured on populations. ET explains such changes, at least in part, by appeal to natural selection. Both dynamical (Bouchard and Rosenberg 2004; Stephens 2004) and statistical (Walsh, Lewens and Ariew, 2002) interpretations of ET take selection to be represented by equations whose state-variables are measured on populations. The equations are, up to...

  16. 12 Similarity and Species Concepts
    (pp. 253-288)
    Jason G. Rheins

    Conceptions of species that are explicitly based on similarity or resemblance between group members have fallen out of widespread favor despite the apparent importance of morphological criteria of identification for field biologists. To put the matter succinctly: similarity, be it morphological or genotypic, is widely regarded as insufficient to demarcatenatural kindsor monophyletic branches on the tree of life. Rival views such as the ecological, biological, and evolutionary conceptions of species are regarded as more likely to be successful grounds for delineating real kinds, and many defenders of the now dominant evolutionary-cladistic conception have gone so far as to...

  17. 13 Species Concepts and Natural Goodness
    (pp. 289-312)
    Judith K. Crane and Ronald Sandler

    Philippa Foot (2001) has defended a form of natural goodness evaluation in which living things are evaluated by how well fitted they are for flourishing as members of their species, in ways characteristic of their species. She has argued, further, that assessments of moral goodness (virtue and vice) in humans are,mutatis mutandis, of the same evaluative form. (For similar naturalistic approaches see Hursthouse 1999, Macintyre 1999, Geach 1977, and Sandler 2007). If this natural goodness approach is to provide an adequate explanation of moral evaluation, issues need to be addressed at several levels. First, is this form of natural...

  18. 14 How to Think about the Free Will/Determinism Problem
    (pp. 313-340)
    Kadri Vihvelin

    Common sense says that we have free will. We make choices. And while we are sometimes in a position where we make a choice while being mistaken about what our options are, this is not always, or even usually, the case. Ordinarily, when we make a choice we really do have the choice we think we have. You can stop reading this paper right now, or you can read on. You really can do either of these things. It’s up to you. You have a choice.

    Butfor all we know, determinism is true. Determinism is the thesis that the...

  19. Contributors
    (pp. 341-342)
  20. Index
    (pp. 343-356)